Former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez has dismissed comparisons between Lionel Messi and himself, calling it “a load of balls” to suggest Messi is playing like he did in his prime. He also praised the team for how they're performing, saying watching them makes him “drool.”
As reported by Santi Gimenez of AS, Xavi showered Messi with praise, calling him the greatest ever and saying he doesn't need to win a World Cup to have such a legacy:
I felt at my best between 28 and 32, and he's looking after himself better than ever, he's spectacular.
Messi is playing like Xavi? What a load of balls, Messi plays like Messi, he does whatever he wants, he does everything well and is the best in history. He doesn't have to win a World Cup to prove it, Di Stefano and Cruyff didn't win it either.
He also talked about his former club and their sensational form, saying: "Barcelona have what they need to keep winning. The way the team plays makes me drool, they're at a stratospheric level.”
The 35-year-old midfield maestro currently plays in Qatar for Al Sadd but spent his entire career with the Catalan giants until 2015. One of the best players in club history, he won eight La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League trophies during his time with the Blaugrana.
At his peak, Xavi was widely regarded as the best passer in the world, and he played a huge role in Barcelona's persistent dominance over the last 15 years. The Blaugrana haven't missed a beat since he left, thanks in large part to the exploits of Messi.
The Argentina international won his fifth Ballon d'Or trophy last year, guiding Barcelona to a treble in the process. Here's a look at some of his highlights from that season:
He also made it to the final of the 2015 Copa America, where the Albiceleste lost to hosts Chile. It marked the second international final he lost with Argentina in the last two years, as major silverware continues to elude him on that level.
Messi's lack of success in the Argentina shirt will always provide detractors with ammunition, and players like Pele and Diego Maradona, two names who often come up when discussing the greatest footballers of all time, built their legacy on impressive World Cup performances.
Former Argentina manager and World Cup winner Carlos Bilardo is one of those who won't rank Messi over those two, as he told Ole (h/t CBS Sports' Roger Gonzalez): "I put him among the best, but not in history, just at the moment. He's reached his ceiling. He can't win more than he has, but he has the incentive to win the World Cup.”
But Xavi, who did win a World Cup and two European Championships, clearly disagrees. He points at Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Di Stefano, two players who had incredible club careers but never won a World Cup, either.
Does Messi need to win a World Cup to be considered the greatest of all time?
Di Stefano built his legacy with Real Madrid, where he won an incredible five European Cups and became one of La Liga's all-time top scorers―but Messi has already beaten his goal tally in that league by a large margin, per Goal.
Cruyff found success with a number of clubs, including Barcelona, but the closest he ever came to international silverware was the 1974 World Cup final, which the Netherlands lost to West Germany.
Messi still has plenty of time to win his first major international trophy, at which point it would be virtually impossible not to call him the greatest player who has ever lived. But even if he never wins another tournament with Argentina, his remarkable success at the club level will keep him at the centre of the discussion.